Monday, April 22, 2024
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Jordan Peterson and the cowards of Cambridge


JORDAN Peterson is in the news again because an offer of a visiting fellowship at Cambridge University’s Faculty of Divinity was rescinded after ‘further review’.

It appears that he is not ‘inclusive’ enough.

In a statement to the Guardian, the university said: ‘[Cambridge] is an inclusive environment and we expect all our staff and visitors to uphold our principles. There is no place here for anyone who cannot.’

The university students’ union also had their say on the matter and I was not surprised to hear they don’t like him.

Their statement said: ‘His work and views are not representative of the student body and as such we do not see his visit as a valuable contribution to the university, but one that works in opposition to the principles of the university.’

That’s interesting. According to Wikipedia, in 2016/17 there were 19,955 students at the university. It’s amazing that the students’ union knows what each of them thinks, and that it is certain none of them wants to hear anything Dr Peterson has to say.

Further, what are ‘the principles of the university’? Peterson is most controversial because of his opinions on feminism and transgenderism. He is a critic of the concept of the ‘patriarchy’ and is sceptical about climate change.

I doubt if Cambridge University was founded in 1209 to fight against the patriarchy. The motto ‘Hinc lucem et pocula sacra’ means literally ‘From here, light and sacred draughts’. The university itself gives this interpretation: ‘From this place, we gain enlightenment and precious knowledge’.

My belief is that one gains ‘enlightenment and precious knowledge’ by listening to what different erudite individuals have to say. Once you have listened you go away and draw your own conclusions – you might even do some reading of your own. Further, it is a lifelong journey. An undergraduate, or someone in their 20s, has a long way to go.

Obviously the principles of the university have changed: they are not about the pursuit of truth, but about upholding modern orthodoxy. As the saying goes, the acme of wisdom is being certain of your opinions and unwilling to listen to anyone who challenges them.

The whole episode reminds me of Nassim Nicholas Taleb (who is not a fan of Dr Peterson) and his theory of the ‘dictatorship of the small minority’. He says that a particularly intolerant minority can exert considerable influence on the majority by virtue of their intolerance.

This certainly helps explain the radical changes our culture has undergone, and relations with people in general. Anyone who has had a difficult family member, friend or partner knows how someone can get their own way by making a fuss and others not being bothered to fight them.

It’s not just the intolerant activists who are the problem but the apathetic allowing us to sleepwalk towards suffocating conformity.

Extremists are going to be extreme – it’s in their nature. What’s most disappointing is that the university has gone along with it, turning its back on Peterson for no discernible reason. It’s indicative of the intellectual zeitgeist: boring, conformist and thin-skinned, totally intolerant of dissenting voices.

I don’t agree with everything that Jordan Peterson says but he is doing good work. His remarkable popularity proves he is saying things people want to hear. It is Cambridge University which looks bad in the light of this decision, not him.

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Fionn Shiner
Fionn Shiner
Fionn Shiner is a London-based writer who has written for the Spectator, the Daily Mirror, Private Eye and more. His day job is Press and Parliamentary Officer for Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

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